October is Disability Employment Awareness Month. Each year, we at AccessWorld strive to bring you the most comprehensive and current employment resources and information for people with visual impairments. Whether you are just beginning your employment journey or have been on the job for many years, we hope you will find the resources detailed here useful and informative.
Through the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, each state provides employment resources to those with vision loss through vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies specifically for individuals with blindness or low vision as well as general VR agencies. Services are provided based on a principle titled "Informed Choice" and on an evidenced based assessment of their abilities and desires which is outlined in an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE).
Services provided by a VR agency can vary widely but generally fall into three categories: guidance, training, and resources.
Rehabilitation counselors can provide counseling and guidance as well as case management. Often, a VR agency can also provide daily living, orientation and mobility, and assistive technology skills training either through a traveling/local professional or through a residential training center. Lastly, VR can often provide tangible resources to aid a client in reaching their employment goal. The most common forms of physical resources provide are funding for education or funding for specific assistive technologies needed to accomplish the individual's chosen career.
You can find contact information for your state's VR department in the VisionAware directory of services.
Useful Technology for Employment
The KNFB Reader app offers access at a cost, but it is a useful app for individuals who are blind. The app provides the ability to access print documents, menus, and much more in everyday life and employment settings through a portable OCR solution. People use the KNFB Reader to independently access printed material, and the developers continue to add new features. IT is also possible to import PDF documents or images that contain images of text and have them converted into readable text with the KNFB Reader.
Microsoft's Seeing AI app provides recognition of text, products, and people. Each distinct feature in the app is referred to as a "Channel". The app has two OCR channels. One that could be particularly useful in the workplace is called Short text. This feature uses the camera to constantly scan for legible text and upon detection read it automatically. This feature is useful in many situations from reading error messages on a computer's screen in real time to sorting printed documents. The other OCR channel aims to capture an entire document. More recently, a channel has been added to the app that aims to recognize handwriting, a feature also shared by the very similar Envision AI, also available on Android. These apps were recently compared in AccessWorld.
The Be My Eyes app is a free app that allows people to volunteer to video chat in order to provide visual assistance to people who are blind or visually impaired. You can use this app for access to all kinds of information ranging from captchas to thermostats in hotels. Originally only available on iOS, the app is now available on Android as well.
Aira is a service that allows someone with a visual impairment to request visual assistance from someone who has been professionally trained to provide assistance to people with visual impairments. We have reviewed Aira across two articles. The first article was published in the September 2017 issue of AccessWorld. Part 2 was published in the October 2017 issue. More recently, we have published a review of Aira's new Horizon smart glasses. Aira now also provides free minutes for users when their inquiries relate to job seeking tasks. Further details on this program can be found here.
There are a number of GPS apps specifically for people with visual impairments. These include BlindSquare, Nearby Explorer, Seeing Eye GPS, and Microsoft Soundscape. Beacon technology has revolutionized the development of indoor navigation solutions for people with visual impairments. There are many apps available that take advantage of this technology to provide step-by-step directions or the equivalent of accessible signs indoors. Some of these include BlindSquare, Right-Hear, Aware, and APH Indoor Explorer. No matter what app you use, an app will not replace the use of proper orientation and mobility skills with a white cane or dog guide. Ride sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft have become popular transportation options for those with vision loss due to their relative affordability and convenience. You can find a page describing accessibility at Uber here. I was unable to find a similar page for Lyft but the company is also taking steps to make the use of their service accessible to those with vision. Lyft has partnered with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Aira as well as insuring that their app is accessible when using assistive technology. We have discussed the benefits of ride sharing apps in this article.
Disability:IN; Formerly USBLN
Disability:IN, formerly the United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN), is a nation wide organization that seeks to assist businesses in improving disability inclusion across the board, from hiring to products. Disability:IN contains a network of businesses across the United States organized into local affiliates that share strategies and best practices for disability inclusion. Membership also serves the purpose of identifying a business as an entity that believes in disability inclusion and seeks to improve it in its organization.
In partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Disability:IN has produced the Disability Equality index, a method for quantifying the level of disability inclusion present in a business. The organization also produces monthly webinars on disability with recordings being available to members there afterward. Through the Next Gen Leaders Initiatives, Disability:IN connects college students and college graduates with businesses for mentorships and for assistance advancing their careers.
Career Training and Workplace Experience Resources
In addition to traditional rehabilitation programs, there are several organizations who aim to assist people with vision loss in obtaining a career. Most programs provide a combination of general guidance as well as resources for connecting with employers, gaining work experience, or gaining training for a specific field of work.
The Blind Institute of Technology (BIT) works with job seekers and employers to connect people with vision loss with careers in the field of technology. For job seekers, BIT provides assistance by developing training programs as well as instructional videos regarding access topics. In addition, BIT can provide individuals with guidance regarding the interview process and BIT has also partnered with Uber to provide transportation assistance for those with vision loss. For employers, BIT provides disability inclusion workshops, accessibility consulting, and can connect employers with qualified prospective employees with vision loss.
The organization Project Starfish America aims to work with individuals to launch or relaunch their career if they are from a minority population (such as individuals with vision loss) who may traditionally find it difficult to locate employment. Project Starfish was inspired by the low unemployment rate among those who are blind or have low vision, so the vision loss community is a key population served by the program. The program provides training for individuals to teach skills needed in the workplace while also connecting individuals with short-term work through startup businesses so that they can gain concrete job experience for use on a resume. In addition, the organization has begun to work with students through an internship program that aims to provide experiences geared to entering an ivy-league university.
The Lighthouse of Houston has offered office skills, telecommunications, customer service, and medical transcription training at its campus for many years. Due to the success of the medical transcription program, the organization now offers medical transcription training for those with vision loss online. Courses range in length from 6 months for the office skills course to 18 months for the online or in person medical transcription training program.
The World Services for the Blind, a residential training center for visual impairment skills in Arkansas, partners with the IRS to provide training for various entry-level positions with the IRS. Once trained, individuals are then placed with the agency. The IRS relates a story in which an individual was trained, entered the IRS workforce, and has since been promoted on several occasions after beginning work with the IRS.
Job Search Tools
A key method for finding employment opportunities is the use of job listing websites. The most popular sites currently operating are Indeed, Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, and Monster. Based on a quick overview of these four sites using the NVDA screen reader, Indeed and ZipRecruiter were the most accessible with Monster following. Glassdoor's job search was usable but significantly less accessible than the other sites assessed. All these sites functioned similarly, a user can search for a job by keyword or location with other filtering options also available such as salary and experience level. Interestingly, Indeed has a link that lists jobs that are listed as remote, which could be particularly useful for someone with visual impairments.
In addition to traditional job listing sites, employers are increasingly listing positions on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Both LinkedIn and Facebook have dedicated accessibility teams so can be relied on to be fairly accessible using assistive technology, though due to the frequent changes such sites experience, accessibility may fluctuate. We reviewed LinkedIn in the October 2015 issue of AccessWorld, which may be helpful if you are not familiar with the site (the accessibility of the site may have changed since the article's publication). We briefly detailed navigating Facebook in this 2013 article, though again, due to the rapid evolution of the site much of the navigation details and access claims in that article are outdated. That being said, if you are unfamiliar with Facebook or other social networks, you may find the more broadly applicable aspects of the article helpful.
In addition to social media and mainstream job search sites, organizations that serve the vision loss community also provide job listings. The National Federation of the Blind provides job listings from CareerBuilder and USAJobs on its Newsline service. The Newsline service provides access to newspapers and magazines as well as other information through a standard telephone or in other accessible formats. For information on the service and the job listings feature, visit the Newsline site. The American Council of the Blind offers ACB Job Connection, a site where job openings from across the United States are posted.
Information and Guidance for Job Seekers that are Visually Impaired
Several organizations provide information and guidance for job seekers that are visually impaired. You may be familiar with CareerConnect, a site that provides extensive resources and guidance for job seekers who are visually impaired. In addition to informational resources, CareerConnect also includes interactive career building tools and a database of mentors who are visually impaired employed in many different fields. CareerConnect also has a series of articles profiling successful employed individuals with vision loss which contain extensive information on the individual's career and the accommodations they use. CareerConnect was formerly a program operated by AFB, but after July 1, 2018, the program has been transferred to the American Printing House for the Blind.
The National Federation of the Blind provides a series of profiles of successfully employed blind individuals in their Where the Blind Work Series. The organization also publishes employment related material in its varying publications and information sources across the website. The Perkins School for the Blind has also created a site containing information to assist job seekers who are blind or visually impaired. The site also contains information aimed at employers who wish to provide an optimal work environment for those with vision loss.
This summer, I had the privilege of attending the 2018 Disability:IN conference. Thousands of people from numerous corporations attended with the aim of improving the accessibility of their organizations, from their consumer products to the experiences of their disabled employees. Rapid advances in technology in the last decade have made it possible for people with visual impairments to compete at the same level as their sighted counterparts in more career fields than ever, leaving employer attitudes the last major barriers to employment for those with vision loss. It is heartening to see so many businesses earnestly seeking to improve access to their companies. Hopefully, this will signal a shift in how prospective employees with vision loss are perceived, lowering this final major barrier to meaningful employment.
As each October issue is dedicated to employment here at AccessWorld, I highly recommend reviewing past issues as the resources and information provided there can still be pertinent and useful. Also be sure to check the "Related Articles" section at the bottom of this article, as other employment articles will be located there. We hope these resources serve you well on your employment journey.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- 2017 Employment Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, by Joe Strechay; edited by Aaron Preece
- Employment Perspective: Rethinking the Purpose of Work, by Neva Fairchild
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